Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Act of Faith:
David Sedaris On Learning French

My all - time favorite Sedaris essay has to be "Jesus Shaves," in which he describes his enrollment and participation in a French class for adult beginners. One memorable day, in a vocabulary exercise featuring French holidays, Sedaris learns that in France it is not the Easter Bunny who brings the chocolate eggs; it is the Easter Bell!

Trust me, you will not be able to stop laughing as you read his beginning French dialogue, translated back into English:

"Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb."

"One too may eat of the chocolate."

"And who brings the chocolate?" the teacher asked.

I knew the word, so I raised my hand, saying, "The rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate. . . . He come in the night when one sleep on bed. Which a hand he have a basket and foods."

The teacher sighed and shook her head. As far as she was concerned, I had just explained everything wrong with my country. "No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by a a big bell that flies in from Rome."

I called for a time-out. "But how do the bell know where you live?"

"Well," she said, "how does a rabbit?"

It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes."

And so forth.

This hilarious essay contains everything that I like most about Sedaris. He is so earnest yet so whimsical and unbelievably funny. So cynical yet so hopeful. Nothing slips past him. As he says of his French class:

"In communicating any religious belief, the operative word is faith, a concept illustrated by our very presence in that classroom. Why bother struggling with the grammar lessons of a six-year-old if each of us didn't believe that, against all reason, we might eventually improve? If I could hope to one day carry on a fluent conversation, it was a relatively short leap to believing that a rabbit might visit my home in the middle of the night, leaving behind a handful of chocolate kisses and a carton of menthol cigarettes. So why stop there? If I could believe in myself, why not give other improbabilities the benefit of the doubt? I told myself that despite her past behavior, my teacher was a kind and loving person who had only my best interests at heart. I accepted the idea that an omniscient God had cast me in his own image and that he watched over me and guided me from one place to the next. The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and countless miracles -- my heart expanded to encompass all the wonders and possibilities of the universe.

A bell, though . . . ."

You'll just have to read the book yourself to see Sedaris's final observation concerning this cultural oddity!

(I can't say it here!)



[all passages quoted above are from the essay "Jesus Shaves"
found in Me Talk Pretty One Day, 177 - 180]

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